“At the age of thirty I was comfortably British, occasionally Pakistani, and only technically Muslim,” states Sarfraz Manzoor in his memoir, Greetings from Bury Park. Manzoor’s struggle for identity began early and found him straddling various fences: cultural, ethnic, religious, and—interestingly enough—communicational. The author, who was born in Pakistan in 1972 and transplanted to England two years later, is a journalist, an author, and a broadcaster—a man of words. Who would have thought that the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, American rock’s working class hero, would become the raison d’être and guiding spirit of a Pakistani boy in Luton, England?
One quickly infers from the book that Manzoor’s childhood was rarely happy. Money issues resulted in having to wear ill-fitting clothes. Family came second to his father’s need to be everyone’s savior. Manzoor could never talk with his father or family in the way children should be able to. Much of this was born of his father’s constant litany of pronouncements about the importance of making and saving money, the corrupt lifestyle of the British, and the need for the family to maintain their cultural and religious integrity. Frustrated and confused by having to exist in two unlike worlds, Manzoor’s life changed when, as a teenager, he met a young Sikh who earnestly introduced him to Springsteen’s cathartic lyrics. These were words that spoke to the rebellious heart and conflicted soul, saying “I understand you” at a time in Manzoor’s life when it seemed no one else did.
Manzoor became obsessed with all things Springsteen, meeting Springsteen, immersing himself in Springsteen’s music, and living according to the ideals presented in Springsteen’s songs. After boldly convincing his father that a summer working in America was a good idea, Manzoor sold encyclopedias door to door in Yuba City, California. There he connected with diverse music fans, experienced the bond of ethnic heritage, and confirmed his belief in the goodness of Americans. As an adult, when Manzoor’s religion was put to the test following 9/11 and 7/7, he learned that the ties of Springsteen fans around the world superseded ill-conceived notions.
As a concept, the book shows potential. It is a tale of father-son enmity (after his father died, Manzoor began to understand who he was and what he had been striving for); of fighting the cultural odds (growing up brown in a sea of white); and of the cream rising to the top of the working class pot (becoming a success in the career of his choice). However, the element that tries to distinguish the memoir is Manzoor’s devotion to Springsteen, his love of America, and the brotherly bond between this restless Muslim and the rebellious Sikh. It is meant to be a complex coming-of-age story and of the words and music that transcended the difficulties. Unfortunately, the concept falls short in both the technique and execution.
With little care for chronology, each chapter makes an effort to tie itself to the titles and lyrics of Springsteen’s songs rather than vice versa, as if Manzoor feels his own story is of secondary importance. In attempting to make those associations, Manzoor loses the clarity of his journey. The writing is slapdash, crawling with often-raw language, run-on sentences, and bad grammar—all of which is surprising given the author’s profession. The ending, a few hurried paragraphs that are flat and unsatisfying, never truly puts together the pieces that were flung about in the preceding chapters.
There is, however, an upside to this chaotic compilation of the author’s life: Springsteen’s human touch helps Manzoor realize that he can be his own man without leaving behind the people and things he loves. He isn’t blinded by the light but liberated on his own terms, learning that as the world becomes smaller, our possibilities become endless.
|Jeanne E. Fredriksen reads and writes near Chicago, where she freelances as a copywriter and teaches Creative Writing to children through the Center for Gifted-National Louis University.|